Sunday, November 9, 2008
Just off the highway, the traffic hum was soft - it was a while before rush hour traffic.
The air was still, like surface water waiting to freeze. Above, the grey clouds were translucent in the afternoon light, reflecting on the bright crimson trees below that lined the cathedral walkway.
From beside me , I heard the suggestion "let's throw some leaves in the air - you can take a picture!".
The idea was like the last breath of summer , letting itself go out in style as Fall died too, and before i knew it, the leaves danced downward, like the snow that we already felt in the air, and i was reminded of a line I heard a long time ago;
on a clear day, you can see forever.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Well, up to recently, I didn't know , but now I know - Matthew Sweet had a lot of buzz in the US back in my college days, but since I spent my college days neither in the US or college, he was a mystery to me.
Here at First Avenue, Minneapolis' leading rock venue, all the ex-college crowd were out in force, hell bent on some of that sweet sweet, erm, Sweet.
And lemme tell ya, that guy has the voice of an angel and belted out a barrage of strong pop songs that defy category. I know that may be a little cliched, but it's true. But more of that in a little while; "howabouta hand f'r de op'nin' act..."
The Bridge, a largely blond young Alabama band were treading the boards pushing their new album which was produced by Mr. Sweet. An all female frontline sang super harmonies over well written eclectic pop/rock/retro numbers, driven from behind by a skinny young drummer that was totally engaged and engaging - think Levon Helm as a skinny young guy in a t shirt.
They finished their set to a well impressed audience, and made way for Mr. Sweet and his band, who looked like they could have fathered most of the opening act, or maybe just rolled 'em and smoked 'em . The drummer was lost under a hair-filled trilby hat and beard. Somewhere in there was a man.
The first guitar player was every inch the Jimmy Page- style rocker with some great RAAaaaawwwkkk! licks.
All together, they made a sweet (sorry) sound and drove each song out of the park, and amongst the many fans were an inordinate number who sang every note as if it would be their last act on this earth. A testament to Sweet's songs, and/or the fan's drunkenness/loyalty, but I'll vouch for the songs - i only had a few bottles of Grain Belt Premium (when in Rome...), and had they not all been new songs to me, I'm sure I would've been in the thick of the horde, singing amongst the many like I was singing in the shower.
Mr. Sweet, I like you a lot.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Awesome. One word. No meaning. At least, not here in the United States, where it's bandied about willy nilly to describe everything from the size of the known universe to a cheeseburger . However, it's a word that kept reverberating as I walked around this most american of cities.
Ocean City. New Jersey with it's Cotton Candy, Ferris Wheel, shooting galleries, hot dogs, pinball, boardwalk, beach front, family-run motels, gelato and surreys. Awesome. Freakin' awesome.
The sun shone steadily, and the Atlantic was an inviting temperature for the first morning arrivals to the beach, staking their claim with parasols, coolers and towels.
The beach front stores had already woken up . Books, beach clothes and bad food were all there for the taking, along with every garishly colored chotchke imaginable, and before I could drag myself back to the motel, I already had three books, a souvenir lighter for a friend, and a hankering for some early morning ice cream. Time to go.
The motel, The Trade Winds, is a family-run, accidentally retro affair, given it's age. Everything clean and simple. Everything works, including the pool in the parking lot.
It felt a lot like the beach town setting for "Jaws", but without the blood or the shark, and as a dry town , it keeps the "Family" in "Family Holiday", and clearly, families have been flocking here for a long time -the boardwalk boasts businesses that were established in 1888 , and by necessity, it has been divided into lanes for joggers. walkers, bikes, and surreys. Indeed by mid afternoon, just crossing from the beach to the street demanded rapid neck movement, or maybe eyes in the back of your head
So if for just one day (or longer) you want to forget the job, the diet and the heavy traffic, I think I know a place where the gelato, the pizza slice and the lungful of fresh atlantic air will knock 'em all right out of your head.
Ocean City, NJ, you rock (dude).
The rigors of life on the road were summed up very succinctly by the band leader, Cathie when I said I'd be staying with a friend instead of the hotel; "Awww", she whined " you get to sleep in a house..." . It's the little things.....
I did manage to get into town for breakfast at a neat little place called "Dozen's". "Hm, odd name" I thought, until I opened the menu- -the theme is eggs and the menu is splattered with pictures of chickens and deliberate misspellings like " eggsactly" and "eggseptional" - the kind of thing that computer word processing software hates, as is being made very clear to me right now.
After that , it was time for a stroll, passing the colossal Denver Art Museum, I say passing and alas, not entering - the little window of time was closing fast.
Drun thing doesn't even fit on the screen.............
The stroll was nice, though, with the streets in Sunday mode - mellow and slow moving around the pedestrianized mall area, and i got the impression that even on a busy week day, the pace would remain pretty relaxed. This city is a world away from it's coastal peers, with a character all it's own.
Back to the festival grounds for the final performance, then eating, drinking a beer and hanging with the other bands and the hardworking volunteers, then back to the hotel for a few hours sleep and from there to the airport, where I am right now, New Jersey - bound for the next gig, the glorious Rockies watching each one of us get in line, take off our shoes, find our gate, wait for seat assignment etc etc etc etc . When I grow up, I want to be them.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Albequerque. Even the airport is comfortable. We had an all to brief stay in Old Town for 2 days for a show at the zoo. yes, the zoo. The kind with animals.
As memorable as it was to play with the sound of roaring lions, seals, ducks and peacocks in the background, the downtime hanging around Old Town in all it's historic, touristy glory also left a lasting impression.
Where we played
After the , for me, almost inevitable flight delays and missed connections, decided to fight the temptation to rest my weary bones as soon as I checked in, and instead went for a ramble - time was short, and this place is cool. Anyways, I was kinda hungry.
The mexican food in the old town plaza, is cheap and cheerful. After spending a relaxing hour walking around the various chochke stores and soaking up the easy pace, I decided it was time for a bite, and a cold cerveza on a hot day. Chile Rellenos washed down with a cold one? I think so, and with the help of outside seating, no need to miss any of the streets' atmosphere. As vibrant as it was, the whole place shut down at 9pm. Not a sound to be heard on the same streets that held droves of tourists just a few hours earlier. I took the hint.
San Felipe de Neri. It's been standing since 1706
The desert sun came a-knockin' nice and early, and before i knew it , I was eating breakfast at the Church Street inn - huevos rancheros - with smilin' Brian Mellick , our percussionist who got in late the night before, and, just like the tourists milling around us, we snapped shots of the adobe architecture, cactii, dogs etc.
And of course we bought souvenirs. A plastic medicine man in a wooden booth told me I had good fortune ahead and that each day is something to be grateful for. Not bad for a dollar.
As I said, the time was short, but that just makes me all the more determined to return, although I think I might be saying that after every trip down here, no matter how long i stay.
There's something odd about playing on a christmas tree farm on the fourth of July, but here we were. I'd never been to Wichita, and were it not for my have-guitar-will-travel lifestyle, I'm not sure it would ever have been on my radar.
We had three days in one place - for a touring band, that's like an oasis in a desert, so I took the opportunity to walk and explore, situated as we were right on the river.
After a night in a comfortable bed , and with a little time to wash the airport off, I headed downstairs, out on to the river and turned right. It was as good a plan as any. The Arkansas River is flanked by well kept pathways with ample room for walking, jogging and biking, and seems to support plenty local wildlife.
About a half mile down, at the confluence of the Big Arkansas and the Little Arkansas rivers, stands The Keeper of the Plains , a weathered steel sculpture of a Native American warrior paying homage to the morning, his horn raised to the rising sun. The Sculpture was give to the city by it's creator, Blackbear Boisin, and has become a symbol of the city and a reminder of the roots of this prairie cowtown.
For a guy who grew up on cowboy movies and TV shows, this town evoked some boyish excitement, exposed as i was to pictures and photos of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and their peers gazing down from shop windows eager to remind the casual passer-by of the local history, and occasionally , the remnants of those gunslingin' days of yore made themselves very clear :
Breakfast at the Beacon, a downtown Diner with plenty down-home character and walls covered with oodles of paintings of light houses. Yes; light houses. In Kansas. The omelets were handsome, and did the trick.
The Beacon is in the OLd Town area - what was once clearly an industrial area, with a train station and factory buildings has now been transformed into a restaurant that was once a train station and bars and shops that were once factory buildings, the whole area having a very hip and cool ambience, with something for everyone I'm sure:
On the way back to the hotel, Douglas Street boasts a number of life-size, and extremely lifelike bronze sculptures by Georgia Gerber, ranging in size from a frog, to a busy diner bar. Eye-catching , and worthy of a click or two....
The band try to sell a few CDs
The gig site itself, the afore-mentioned Christmas tree farm, was resplendent in it's summer glory, not to mention an innovative music venue; a converted barn (affectionately known as "Barnegie Hall") the inside designed for chamber music , with the performance being fed to a big screen for those outside in the garden.
All in all, Wichita served up more than I expected, and the friendly folk we met made it clear that we were welcome back anytime. I might just take 'em up on that.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
It's 10.30 pm. Less than an hour ago, I left the Xcel Energy Center in Downtown St Paul MN.
Over 5 hours ago, I took my spot on the sidewalk, waiting in line to get into the Xcel center to hear Barack Obama deliver his final primary speech.
My girlfriend and i were one of the 20,000 lucky ones to get in. Luckily for the 15,000 left outside, the giant screens outside delivered the words of the big O.in dazzling technisupercolor.
We took our place in line around 4ish, and crowd management was in full swing. With the amount of merchandise vendors and teenagers, I had what was to be my first flashback from my rock festival-going days, and not my last suspicion that politics might be the new (Ba)rock 'n' roll.
We stood, read, watched the helicopters, listened to some pretty imaginative t-shirt sales pitches ("Buy one now while i have your size") until at 6pm, with the line stretching 8 to 10 blocks, the doors open and we started to move slowly forward..
As we approached the door,we were advised what we were allowed and not allowed to bring in; cameras and phones no problem. no flags or banners.
No flags or banners? How come I always see 'em on TV? Guess I'm just naive.
Finally, we're in, and one word springs to mind; Truck - O - Saurus!!!!!!!!
I guess a hockey stadium is a hockey stadium is a hockey stadium, and this one was filling up steadily, feeling just like a stadium event . The last time I was in a stadium was to see the Police, and that wasn't a capacity crowd. Mind you, Stewart Copeland is the son of God.
Before we took our seats, after standing outside for about 3 hours, a bathroom break was called for. On my way, a loud cheer rose from the stadium floor, sending hundreds running to see what the commotion was. Of course, as any rock festival devotee knows, it was nothing more than a TV camera sweeping the crowd.
I was still having trouble adjusting ; political rally! political rally! No two-fingered salutes. No air-guitar. Keep it together, Pats.
Finally sitting , with a good view of all there was to survey. directly above the podium, a bank of multi-directional screens and lights hung from the ceiling, keeping us informed with TV news feeds. As the news showed snippets of the days oratorial action from around the nation and its prospecive candidates, the assembling hordes here in St Paul reacted accordingly; cheering their man, and hissing at the bad guy. Summer, the season of the Punch and Judy show, was finally here.
at 7.31, the news tells us that Barack Obama is just nine delegates away from clinching. An hour and a half to the gig, i mean... the...well what would YOU call it? Anyway, plenty time to scan the terrain.
in the seats directly behind the podium and directly in camera shot, the flag wavers were being rehearsed by the flag-waving guy. ( wait a minute- flags? What sorcery is this?)
" 'kay so it's.....left, right....left, right....."
" Waddya think, Bawb, a bit more wavy, maybe? Huh? Ah c'n make it more wavy lookin'..."
Once the news was over, the screen could then devote itself entirely to heightening the Obama-love. First up was the song "Yes We Can", a song whose lyrical bones are made up of Barack Obama's speeches, the bones of which were in turn made up of Martin Luther King jr.'s speeches and were now being sung with studied emotion by such rock icons as John Legend and ...er...Scarlet Johannsen, and a host of other airbrushed celebs practicing their screenshots. The only one I recognized as having actually earned iconic status was Herbie Hancock ; the other son of God. Presumably different mothers.
"BANNERS, GET Y'BANNERS...."
Time was rolling on and the excitement wqs palpable. No mater how you sliced it, we were all present on a historic night, no matter what happened. At this point none of us knew the exact delegate count.
At 8 o' clock it said this.
At boiling point it said this.....
Of course the crowd here was loving it, being carried on a wave of optimism and hope. Could it be that Rock 'n' Roll could make a difference? Clearly, not on it's own; it would need Barack Obama for that. Mind you, given that Rock 'n' Roll would seem these days to hold the same place in youth consciousness as a candy bar, that's hardly surprising.
"Waddya mean, no beer tent?"
But cynicism is easy, and with a quick scan of the unfolding proceedings, effortlessly squashed.
20,000 people had gathered with faith that the future's looking good, that there is real hope for an improved country and that this guy will light the way.
of course this is common to any political rally, but unlike the concert atmosphere, the common bond goes far beyond fan - adoration. most of the 20,000 people here, along with the 15,000 people outside have at some point sat down and thought " This guy could help us all improve the country we live in." - a far more powerful unifying thought than " Dude, I have all their albums."
Finally, the time had come. At 9.11pm , Barack and Michelle Obama took to the stand. The cheers were long and deafening. Michelle left the stage and Barack took his place.
"Can you tape Law & Order? I'll be home in an hour ..."
5 hours earlier, I had begun my wait. As a friend of mine once said to Dave Van Ronk, "This better be good...." . Once the hysteria had faded a little, he spoke.
Each sentence was concise and to the point, and the man delivered each point with clarity and confidence exuding graciousness, strength and calm, respectful to his opponents, eager to meet the challenges ahead, and in a calm steady voice he declared " Because of you I can stand here and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for the President of the United States of America". In a sea of ecstatic support, incessant chanting, and teenage girls losing their shit, he presented himself as a rock, a beacon in the maelstrom, and I was left thinking," Barack, if you can walk it like you talk it, there's some fine days ahead."
He spoke for exactly one half hour and said goodbye, which was met with the chant "YES WE CAN!" rising from the arena. As an immigrant without full citizenship, I feel my sole chant of "NO I CAN"T" was probably a little lost.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Friday May 18 2007
Stayed in Barranco last night, a reasonably affluent neighbourhood with a strong sense of the past; many of the larger streets are dotted with crumbling facades in the Spanish colonial style. Their architectural beauty still shines through although if they don't receive extensive restoration work their days are most definitely numbered.
Although the area has many bars and restaurants and picturesque promenades to attract the tourist, one is well advised to be aware of pick-pockets and crooks - we found only one currency exchange that we trusted not to offer forgeries. It's all too common for the unwitting tourist to receive counterfeit soles. On trying to spend the forgeries, the shopkeeper will call the police, who will in turn demand "payment" from the unhappy traveler to sort everything out - a handy, largely untraceable scam.
Saturday May 19
We are driven to Ate (At-ay) where we will work and live for the week.
According to the 2005 census by the INEI, the district has 419,663 inhabitants and a population density of 5,399.7 persons/km². In 2005, there were 105,190 households in the district. It is the 13th most populated district in Lima.
It's about a half hour from Barranco. From the windows of our combi van, as the cityscape slowly disappeared, we could see from the highway, dusty barren hills with scattered one- or two-room square flat-roofed structures. Most were made of brick. Some of wood, some roofless. They lined the road in a haphazard way and sprawled back and up into the hills until they were no more than specks on the dull brown earth.
"We must be getting close" I thought. I was wrong.
As the road narowed, the neighborhood closed in around us. Small, delapidated corner stores were almost near enough to touch, as were the rickshaw repair shops and the oddly out-of-place looking internet 'cafe".
children, dogs and chickens roamed freely and at times in seemingly equal number, and the smell of urine and faeces intermittently peppered the air, which was becoming increasingly thicker with dust and pollutants.
"This must be it" I thought. Once again I was wrong.
The asphalt, potholed uneven road we had been traveling disappeared and we found ourselves traveling a rough dirt road that belched dust in our wake and greeted us with rocks, holes and and impromptu rubbish piles of bags, animal carcasses and waste - there's no running water here and precious few toilet facilities.
The homes were just feet away from us now and the humble living conditions were within full view.
For the most part, we saw homes of four walls built from brick and mortar, somewhere between 15 to 20 ft square, with a flat roof. Slate is expensive, and many of the roofs are slipshod affairs, some made of reed frames overlapping each other, some of cardboard, plastic sacking or scrap wood.
The area is spreading up into the hills, filling with newcomers from rural areas in search of a better life. These new homes are wooden shacks that straddle a new road flattened from the granite rock. The road is essential if the residents want water which is delivered by truck. The large tank empties via hosepipe to individual 30 gallon barrels outside the homes. 1 sole - about 30 cents, fills the barrel.
As the area spreads, the road needs to be continued. Where this needs to happen, the new residents get together with iron bars, picks and sledgehammers and do this by hand. When we arrived, about two dozen residents, men and women ranging in age from about 15 to fifty, were busy hammering at the granite in the evening sun.
We were met with warm smiles and open arms by the locals, who are glad to see these tall gringos (peruvians are generally smaller than the average westerner) who had come to help out. These people don't actively seek charity. Rather than expect us to do anything for them, it seems they understand that we're here to work by their side and share their workload.
Sunday May 20th
Our main contact in the Ate region was a guy called Dave Costello. Dave is a Catholic priest who is much respected in the area, which is made up of almost 100% devout catholics. Having worked beside Dave, though, it becomes apparent that his main motivation is not so much in the conversion of heathens but more the improvement of living conditions and the furnishing of basic amenities for all, regardless of religious afiliatioon.
We lived with Dave because, frankly , it was safer. This, like many impoverished communities around the world, suffers from it's fair share of street crimes, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, rape and incest. We never walked anywhere alone. Going to the tiny corner store was always done in packs. The store, like all in the area, sold cigarettes singly for 30 centimos - about 10 cents. The gringo who can afford a whole pack of twenty - unthinkable to most residents - is an obvious target for the less scrupulous, not to mention the desperate. Think what else we must have -leather wallets, cell phones, watches, passports ( a huge black market value). We were relatively safe at Dave's house, considerably safer than if we had stayed with local families.
Sunday morning came early, with Dave celebrating mass in the open air in the heart of the district at 7.30 am. For the devout in our group, it was a chance to share mass with the local community. For the rest of us, it was a simple act of solidarity -we were in this together for a short period of time to get some things done. This feeling ws mutual, which became apparent as soon as mass ended; the teenagers who had sang and played guitars during the mass made it clear they wanted the musical ones in our group to play with them and dance while some of the kids gave us home made chocolate which was delicious.
At that time of the morning, a fellow volunteer and I grabbed guitars and delivered a fairly bleary-eyed version of Stand By Me and a few other things, and then danced with some of our new friends. We proved no match for their energy at that time of the morning, and were glad of the invite back to one of the local women's home to sit and enjoy coffee.
When we got there, we sat on long wooden benches at a table in the center of here one-room home under a roof of plastic sack and cardboard. The home quickly filled up with 12 gringos and at least as many locals eager to interact with us. We were served sweet coffee in paper cups, bread rolls with goats cheese, and a sweet pastry i couldn't quite recognise, we were acutely aware that although this was a modest presentation by our standards, it was far more food than any of these folks could afford comfortably, we accepted graciously , eager not to offend. We each introduced ourselves in broken Spanish and English, and after about an hour, headed off in the wake of much hugging and expressions of thanks on both sides.We gringos were moved and uplifted by the warmth and open-heartedness of our hosts.
We later learned that the woman of the house had only borrowed the table for our visit, and returned it after we had left.
At 8.30, we went to the building site to work on the new church/community center. We spent five days with the bricklayers and the foreman/conractor, Sulka.
Sulka is a middle aged, good humored father of two with an eagerness to please his employer, and a keen curiosity for the english language. In fact between us, the main entertainment between us all was the swapping of spanish and english words and phrases.
Emir, at 29, is the youngest on site and worked with speed and accuracy and enjoyed sharing a joke. Also a phenomenal soccer player.
Santiago, or "machucha" as he was introduced to me, is by far the oldest at 59 ( the average life expectancy in this region is in around 55) and worked harder than most men I've ever seen, only lifting his head from his job in response to a question from Sulka, or a break for water -
always much welcome in the 80 degree heat with a throat full of dust. I learned later that "Machucha" meant something like "old man"
More than once did Machucha see me struggle with a 50 kilo bag of mortar mix only to lift it out of my hands with apparent ease and deliver it to it's destination without breaking a sweat, and return to his wall, putting the next brick in place. Everyday he started a half hour before me and finished a half hour after I left in the evening.
These skilled laborers were earning 40 soles a day, about 13 USD or 10 EUR.
Byy the end of the week we had raise the walls to roof level, at which point the Peruvian contingent took making the structure earthquake-proof using steel rods and concrete/gravel mix.
At the end of the week , we all ate dinner at a newly finished soup kitchen that a previous group of volunteers worked on earlier in the previous year.
A representative from each group said a few words before parting. We thanked the guys we'd worked with for the camaraderie, the little bit of Spanish we picked up and for welcoming us with such openness. They thanked us in turn, but before they did, they thanked God for the work.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
New London, NH hadn't seen this much snow since 1876. It also hadn't seen the band i was in town with ( the Cathie Ryan Band). It was my first time there also, so we were all just getting to know each other; 3 musicians, about 5 feet of snow and nearly 1,000 students and faculty members n historic New London.
The Colby Sawyer College made sure we were fed and housed for a couple of nights, and we spent most of our time off ooh-ing and aaah-ing at the picture -postcard scenery.
It's a small town with one "tavern" and store fronts that are really modified colonials or brownstone houses. Norman Rockwell comes to mind, as does, on this particular visit, the urgent need for ear-muffs. The wind harassed every physical protrusion into submission, and sunk the temperatures to any number you can think of as long as it's preceded by a minus sign.
The gig was good, with a strong number of the 1,000 strong student body and faculty listening attentively as the wind outside was no doubt skinning some unwitting mammal to the bone.
As cold as it was though I was glad I had been outside earlier to see the turquoise of the mid-day sky slowly deepen as the day grew longer, and watch the sun slowly disappear behind virgin snow.
As with most of New England, you're never too far from history, especially in communities of this size - it's hard for an outsider to deduce which came first, the town or the college.
In small towns like this one, it feels as if the pilgrims are not quite a thing of the past, but that they had just popped out for a minute, and rather than hear anybody say "The British are coming", one might be more likely to hear "The british are over there, turn left at the coffee house - you can't miss 'em".
Although the word "quaint" doesn't quite cut it here, the town does have a life outside of it's picture-postcard quality .......
( oh but it's so cuuuute....)
In season it attracts skiers, and so needs a hotel, an Inn, a coffee house, and a ski supply store, all of which are housed in colonial style houses, thus maintaining New London's old-world feel.
All in all, New London may not be a destination in itself unless you're a skier, or just of a curious nature, but definitely worthy of a leg-stretching break in a long drive and a few good lungfuls of mountain air.
Newark, New Jersey
It was late and wet when we arrived at the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark. The lobby was a hive of activity; from the bar, dance music pumped it's hypnotic beat for the drunken revelers. The reception area was non-stop, with a small swarm of new check-ins eager to get to their beds.
While waiting in line, I couldn't help but notice a certain "vibe". Many young men were either over dressed or under-wearing what looked like low-brow high-end suits and hats, while maintaining slightly shifty demeanors. Maybe I'm a little over-imaginative, but I got the impression that any one of them would know how to use a baseball bat in a less than sportsman-like fashion.
Room key in hand, i took the elevator to floor 12. The room was small and comfortable with ambient noise bleeding in from the hallway; running, some garrulous laughter, arguing.
Next door, a high whistling sound that oscillated in pitch, emanated from behind the wall periodically through the night, leading me to conclude that my neighbor was either a shortwave radio enthusiast or a dolphin.
Next morning before soundcheck i took a 12th floor look over Newark. The weather - grey and rainy - gave the place a kind of Dickensian feel, and somehow, it fit the mood of the place; a work-a-day place with a rainbow of characters braving the elements, and a beautiful symphony hall, just around the corner from the hotel- if you ever find yourself in the area and in the mood for a show, check out this venue in all it's finery.
Not quite Dickensian but old-school none the less are the pump attendants at the gas stations in the Garden state. No card-swiping action here; just like the old days you get to say things like 'fill 'er up' or "just gimme twennie bucks". You won't find THAT in the brochures I tells ya....
Far more informed accounts of the various historic sites of DC are available to the curious reader, so i'll stick to my personal experience and not even try to compete with those most learned tomes.
I had a few days off on my east coast tour, and decided to hit the nation's capital for a look-see
Between the monuments and museums, there was way too much ground to cover in the 2 and a half days until my next gig, but keeping in mind that fortune favors the brave, I just started at one end and covered what I could.
Not knowing my way around town, I picked a train stop downtown and went in search of breakfast to fuel the first half of my 2 and a half day culture-sprint. The sunny March morning streamed down through the office buildings, and the many many suits moved fast and deliberately - the denim jeans could be counted on one hand. I settled for a sandwich from a chain sandwich place and watched the suits feeding - it was about lunch time. As one of the the few denim wearers in the area, i felt like I should be in a camouflaged tent with binoculars lest I disturb the button-down wildlife, but the place was comfortable so I just sat and wondered at the fast-paced uniformity parading before me.
Onward to the Monuments, and the second most noticeable sight on the horizon was the seemingly never ending stream of school groups and families, and just like me , they wandered with a slightly upward gaze, in awe of the impeccable craftsmanship that towered above us, drawing each one of us in - one hand clutching a camera, one finger poised on the shutter button.
The monuments themselves are awe inspiring in stature,and for reasons mentioned earlier, i'm not about to catalogue them here. But.....
Suffice to say that the Washington monument is both awesome and interesting in the story of it's development which was stunted about halfway due to the war, and also the financial contribution of a Catholic organsation - something the protestant monument developers took umbrage with. The Lincoln monument, especially the Colorado marble seated statue of the man himself seems to project a quiet, noble serenity, and the 7 acre FDR memorial provides much food for thought, peppered as it is with quotes from his speeches.
So ended day 1
As a a starting point the next morning, the Smithsonian, in all it's glory, was an obvious starting point - from the castle information center and it's serene flower gardens, it's a short jaunt to the air and space museum. On the way there, though, I couldn't resist a quick detour into the Hirshhorn museum of Modern art - a beautiful cylindrical building with an eclectic collection of artists over three floors.
The building itself is an experience - literally walking in circles past paintings and sculptures and video installations draws the viewer ever inward the work of Louise Nevelson spring into memory.
Onward , speedily, to the aforementioned Air and Space Museum , the most visited museum in the world, where hordes of teens and exasperated teachers and parents milled around in ordered chaos between sattelites, military aircraft and impressively large models of unimaginably large planets.
Because the American History Museum is under renovation, a small microcosm of it's contents are housed in one corner of the Air and Space Museum.
I'm not sure that I'm fully tuned in to the subtler nuances of American culture through the ages, so maybe it will always escape me me how President Lincoln's hat and a baseball signed by Babe Ruth shares space with Jerry Seinfeld's puffy shirt and a laptop used by Sarah Jessica Parker's character in Sex and the City.
All this learning is hungry work, so it came time to feed the ol' noodle.
The food court consisted of three major Mcfranchises laid out in a "pay here- pickup there"/communist russia style arrangement, maximising the easy flow of burger-chomping school kids with matching school sweaters.
It didn't warrant sticking around too long, so with a burger and fries gone and already forgotten , it was time to head back out there.....
The amount of information available here, from the wright brothers, through the world wars and into the universe and man's exploration of the heavens, is almost overwhelming, and a hell of a lot of fun and definitely worthy of spending one whole day, should you have the mind to. My mind was fried by the time I got to something to do with comets, so before a complete meltdown occurred, I decided to hit the Museum of African Art, located on the Smithsonian Castle grounds.
A small building with a bright, spacious, modern interior, it includes tribal art from mostly eastern and central africa, ranging from the slightly disturbing (masks made of skin), to the incredibly beautiful, displaying a breathtaking level of craftsmanship (ivory bracelets carved with the minutest detail). As well as that, the schoolkid-free environment served as a great way to decompress after the hectic Air and Space experience.
with weary limbs and feet that were begging for mercy, I decided to call it a day.
For the last day, I figured I'd split it in half; in the morning, the natural history museum, in the afternoon, the Holocaust Museum.
Once more, the most prominent display at the natural history museum were the hordes of fledgling bipeds with their matching school sweaters and cacophonous social rituals. Navigating through the swarm, the ground floor serves as a walk through the earth's pre-history with it's plant and animal fossils, and on into the world of todays mammals - an enlightening stroll with plenty of interactive exhibits aimed mainly at the aforementioned bipeds, but distracting enough for the hopelessly immature.
Upstairs, the minerals and gemstones on display are breathtaking, and the explanation of how they were formed is educational and fascinating without being overly technical.\
Altogether, an educational celebration of the earth's rich cornucopia of life and it's delicate balance.
A few blacks away, the holocaust museum.
Having left the museum, about a block away, I spotted a headline at a news stall declaring that Willie Nelson suggested in a recent radio interview that maybe the attacks on the World Trade Center were an inside job. "Oh c'mon Willie", I thought, " that's unthinkable..."
Alexandria VA, a satellite town of the capital, has it's morning and evening migration of suits, and once that's done with , seems to get on with the business of being a picturesque, historic downtown with quaint shop fronts and eateries, and a pretty laid back feel.
We played one night there, and for my days off, it was easier just to hang in a hotel there and avail of the easy commute into the capital.
The first of the many eateries to catch my eye was Eamonn's - " A Dublin Chipper" the logo proclaimed. I snorted a cynical snort, but rebuked myself immediately, and decided to sample some of the fare on offer.
The small comfortable interior is reminiscent of a Dublin pub; hardwood floors and wooden paneling, and the similarity didn't stop there; one lone Guiness tap stood by the register. hmmmm........
I ordered fish and chips and a pint of the old country's most famous brew.
The battered cod and chips ( what the rest of the world calls french fries) were cooked to perfection and came complete with malt vinegar, salt and pepper, and the Guinness was excellent - cool ,smooth and creamy, and for a fish and chip shop to get it right is no mean feat, given that so many bars get it wrong.
My earlier cynicism was sent yelping for the door with it's tail between it's legs and a look of hard-earned humility, and once out of he way I was left to chow down with little else to distract me from the humble yet mighty feast before me.
The following night , it was time to explore something a little more exotic.
La Tascas , across the street, is a large luxurious Tapas bar with exceedingly friendly staff and a broad menu. one menu item springs to mind; the sauted spinach with pine nuts and raisins, yummy. Probably some others would spring to mind if the sangria hadn't been so good. 'Guess I'll just have to go back....
Damn you. sweet liquor....
A few blocks away, one of Aexandria's more historic eateries occupies a quiet corner just off of the main drag; The Gadsby Tavern boasts from it's sandwich board that " George Washington ate here". It did not clarify, however, if George enjoyed the experience or not, and there was more town to see.
The main downtown area is a pleasure to walk around, soaking up the quiet pedestrian pace, browsing the shop fronts and side streets, and were it not for the siren-like call of the capital's many museums, I could easily have indulged in long lazy days exploring the sights and sounds of this historic harbor town. Maybe next time.
Aah... Milwaukee. For some reason , these two words (is the first one a word?) seem to go together. Although I've only ever set foot in it twice, I feel as though we've known each other a long long time.
The first trip saw me almost completely confined to the festival grounds, and were it not for a good friend and Milwaukee native hatching an escape plan, I might never have sampled some of the older, hipper neighborhoods with the cool coffeehouses and old factory buildings now boasting prime studio and loft space. Milwaukee's industrial roots are no distant memory, making it's atmosphere old-world but in no way romanticized. It's charm is real and gritty. It's people, at least the ones I met, down-to-earth and plain old friendly.
On my second trip, the first night was spent at the Old Towne Inn, right down town , lending an opportunity for some real exploring. The weather was bitter cold, naturally, it being early March. but having just flown from DC, something of a rude awakening for the extremities of a weary traveler.
The Inn is a modest and friendly a affair with a basement bar called The Speakeasy that oozed with unassuming character(s), but more on that later. Once checked in to the room, it was time to check out the town. As eager we were to explore , we were also eager not to freeze to death, so we swung around the first available corner to find, luckily enough, the Rockbottom Brewing Co.
It's big and it's got beer in it
A fine array of crafted beers in a fine old building with a large restaurant leading to a comfortable bar. A friendly, knowledgeable bar tender gave us the grand tour of there homebrewed beverages and left us to our devices.
Later that evening , we found Buck Bradley's, for the carnivore, great Brats and hot dogs in the dining area, and afterwards, a digestif at the longest bar in the city, or so we are led to believe.
After a leisurely stroll around the downtown to take in the night air, it was time for a nightcap at the hotel's "Speakeasy" bar before bed. There we found the perfect people-watching experience to end the evening; the friendly barman nodded a heavily dreadlocked hello. We ordered a drink at the bar and wondered if we were blending in with the loosely scattered clientele, a melange of budget traveler, savvy local and nighthawk. Although the name "Speakeasy" can only be a cosmetic in this day and age, I was hard pressed to think of a more fitting alternative. Maybe it was the basement setting or the late hour, but I had a sneaking feeling that I was getting away with something............